Political News

Congress week ahead: GOP aims to advance tax bill

Posted November 5, 2017 2:31 p.m. EST

— The House Republican tax reform plan won largely positive reviews from GOP lawmakers when it was unveiled last Thursday.

Now, the 429-page proposal will get scrubbed and formally approved by the tax-writing ways and means committee in a formal "markup" that starts at noon Monday and could last through Thursday.

While no major changes are expected to the general contours of the bill, substantive modifications could be made that will be important to key industries -- such as home builders -- or wavering lawmakers, such as Republicans from high-tax states dissatisfied with the proposed changes to deductions for state and local taxes.

The bill was crafted after months of closed-door negotiations between GOP congressional leaders and the White House. The House hopes to vote by Thanksgiving and the Senate soon after with a goal of getting a final bill to the President by Christmas.

That's an ambitious schedule that could easily be thrown off track. How action plays out this week in the ways and means committee could be a key indicator of whether Republicans can keep their tight schedule.

"Most of our members are going to be fine with this," said Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican. "At the end of the day, our members know they have to succeed in this endeavor and they're going to succeed."

Cole acknowledged there are a "couple of little things" he'd like to change in the bill but said none is a "deal breaker."

He said Republicans are intensely focused on getting the bill passed for both policy and political reasons, especially after the Senate failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Republicans might not have any other major accomplishment to show voters before the midterm elections.

"You always worry about the Senate if you're in the House. No matter what side of the aisle," Cole said. "I also think at the end of the day, they're going to get there. They can't afford to fumble twice on the one yard line."

Russia Probe

President Donald Trump's longtime aide and former director of Oval Office operations Keith Schiller is appearing before the House intelligence committee for a closed-door interview Tuesday, according to two sources familiar with the matter. And Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson is appearing Wednesday after the committee sent him a subpoena to testify. His partners invoked their constitutional right not to answer the committee's questions last month.

The House intelligence panel is also planning to release a transcript of the interview with Carter Page, the former foreign policy adviser to Trump's campaign, that was conducted in closed session.

Senate Republicans set to break Democratic filibusters of more nominees

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to confirm four executive branch appointments this week.

They are:

Steven Andrew Engel to head the influential Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice. Peter Robb to be general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board. William Wehrum to be assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation at the Environmental Protection Agency. Derek Kan to be undersecretary of transportation.

Democrats are filibustering each of the nominees for different reasons but are almost powerless to stop them since weakening filibuster rules a few years ago.

McConnell has been critical of Democratic efforts to delay action on Trump's nominees and has vowed to speed up confirmations. Last week, he pushed through four circuit court judges.

Key hearings

Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Kirstjen Nielsen to be the next homeland security secretary. She has been a top aide to White House chief of staff Gen. John Kelly, who held the top Department of Homeland Security post before moving over to the White House earlier this year.

The Senate commerce committee holds a hearing on protecting consumers from data breaches. The current and former CEOs of Equifax will testify, as will Marissa Mayer, the former CEO of Yahoo, which suffered a massive hack of data.

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a confirmation hearing for Andrew Wheeler to be deputy EPA administrator. He is a former top aide to Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, and has lobbied for coal interests.